Prairie farmers who grow, rather than raise, protein sources are looking to break into the mainstream with new research and investments on how to sustainably feed the world.
The push for plant-based protein such as beans and lentils — as opposed to animal sources like meat or dairy — comes as the global population continues to grow rapidly and more consumers think about their health and the environment, said Pulse Canada CEO Gordon Bacon.
“Consumers are looking for better nutrition in the foods they buy, they are looking to protect their health.”
Major government investment
Canadian farmers are poised to be at the forefront of the world’s top producers of protein-rich plants with a growing network of processors — and a new government-funded incubator — to support them.
The industry’s push to provide more choices got a big boost earlier this month when an alliance of 120 companies and organizations focused on developing plant-based proteins won a spot in the federal government’s $950-million supercluster proposal, promising to bring new research and momentum.
The investment comes as the $13 billion global plant-protein market is expected to grow by as much as 98 per cent by 2050, said Frank Hart, chair of the Protein Industries Canada group that put together the supercluster bid.
“It’s a market that’s expected to expand in a significant way.”
While not yet fixed, the expected $150 million or so in funding from the federal program will help anchor another roughly $400 million in spending commitments across the prairies from the private sector, said Hart.
The funding will underpin research into everything from improved farming methods, to new food possibilities for flax, hemp, oats and pulses — which include lentils, chickpeas and dried peas and beans — to finding new ways to extract and make use of the protein in canola.
The research is being driven by changing eating habits and the demand for more choice in protein sources, said Dan Prefontaine, president of the Saskatchewan Food Industry Development Centre Inc., which develops new kinds of foods.
“I was born on meat and potatoes, and my kids are born more on diversity. They’re getting protein from multiple sources.”
‘It’s a market that’s expected to expand in a significant way.’
– Frank Hart
A Nielsen survey released last fall showed the increasing demand for alternatives. It found that 43 per cent of Canadians are actively trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets.
Prefontaine said the supercluster investment will help anchor Canada as a major player in the space.
“This is just the start. This is really giving Western Canada the opportunity to pool our resources to really create an environment and an equal system that promotes innovation and growth.”
Growing interest in alternative proteins has already led to big investments in recent years, including hundreds of millions of dollars committed to pea processing facilities from companies like Roquette, Canadian Protein Innovation, and James Cameron-backed Verdient Foods Inc., as well as into newer protein sources like Hempco and Manitoba Harvest’s hemp products.
The investments are increasing as companies develop new ways to process the protein-rich plants, like a steam-injection method to create pulse-based pasta that acts more like traditional products, or adding plant proteins to make yogurt, said Bacon.
“It’s a combination of a shift in processing, it’s a shift in consumer awareness, and it’s also a shift in cost, where meat companies, dairy companies, are looking for plant-based protein to complement their product line. … it’s not one versus the other.”
Big brands such as Maple Leaf Foods are also taking note of the growing trend. Maple Leaf spent US$120 million last year to buy Seattle-based Field Roast Grain Meat Co. and took over Massachusetts-based LightLife Foods in a $140-million deal, following on Tyson Foods Inc.’s investment in plant-protein company Beyond Meat a year earlier.
The company invested in the space after seeing double-digit annual growth in ready-made plant-based protein options, said Dan Curtin, president of alternative proteins at Maple Leaf.
“We see this as advancing and enhancing to the Maple Leaf portfolio of products,” he said. “We felt that the different options for the protein segment was something we wanted to play in.”
Maple Leaf is still in early days for investments. The two companies it recently purchased are largely limited to U.S. distribution, but Curtin said Maple Leaf will be looking at expanding options to Canada as well.
The plant-protein segment also still only makes up a very small portion of Maple Leaf, as overall demand for meat is still expected to see strong growth going forward.
A Rabobank report out last fall said that while the meat industry should wake up to the growing demand for alternative proteins, that growth still pales in comparison to expected meat demand.
The Dutch bank said alternative protein demand in Canada and the U.S. is expected to increase from around 165,000 tonnes in 2016 to slightly over 200,000 tonnes by 2022, making up only two per cent of the total growth in protein, while meat constitutes the rest.
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Edmonton Alberta News Headlines
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Edmonton /ˈɛdməntən/ (About this sound listen) is the capital city of the Canadian province of Alberta. Edmonton is on the North Saskatchewan River and is the centre of the Edmonton Metropolitan Region, which is surrounded by Alberta’s central region. The city anchors the north end of what Statistics Canada defines as the “Calgary–Edmonton Corridor”.
The city had a population of 932,546 in 2016, making it Alberta’s second-largest city and Canada’s fifth-largest municipality. Also in 2016, Edmonton had a metropolitan population of 1,321,426, making it the sixth-largest census metropolitan area (CMA) in Canada. Edmonton is North America’s northernmost city that has a metropolitan population over one million. A resident of Edmonton is known as an Edmontonian.
Edmonton’s historic growth has been facilitated through the absorption of five adjacent urban municipalities (Strathcona, North Edmonton, West Edmonton, Beverly and Jasper Place) and a series of annexations ending in 1982.[ Known as the “Gateway to the North”, the city is a staging point for large-scale oil sands projects occurring in northern Alberta and large-scale diamond mining operations in the Northwest Territories.
Edmonton is a cultural, governmental and educational centre. It hosts a year-round slate of festivals, reflected in the nickname “Canada’s Festival City”. It is home to North America’s largest mall, West Edmonton Mall (the world’s largest mall from 1981 until 2004), and Fort Edmonton Park, Canada’s largest living history museum.
Further information: History of Edmonton and Timeline of Edmonton history
The earliest known inhabitants settled in the area that is now Edmonton around 3,000 BC and perhaps as early as 12,000 BC, when an ice-free corridor opened as the last glacial period ended and timber, water, and wildlife became available in the region.
In 1754, Anthony Henday, an explorer for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), may have been the first European to enter the Edmonton area. His expeditions across the Canadian Prairies were mainly to seek contact with the aboriginal population for establishing the fur trade, as competition was fierce between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company. By 1795, Fort Edmonton was established on the river’s north bank as a major trading post for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The new fort’s name was suggested by John Peter Pruden after Edmonton, London, the home town of both the HBC deputy governor Sir James Winter Lake, and Pruden.
In 1876, Treaty 6, which includes what is now Edmonton, was signed between the Aboriginal peoples in Canada (or First Nations) and Queen Victoria as Queen of Canada, as part of the Numbered Treaties of Canada. The agreement includes the Plains and Woods Cree, Assiniboine, and other band governments of First Nations at Fort Carlton, Fort Pitt and Battle River. The area covered by the treaty represents most of the central area of the current provinces of Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) to southern Alberta in 1885 helped the Edmonton economy, and the 1891 building of the Calgary and Edmonton (C&E) Railway resulted in the emergence of a railway townsite (South Edmonton/Strathcona) on the river’s south side, across from Edmonton. The arrival of the CPR and the C&E Railway helped bring settlers and entrepreneurs from eastern Canada, Europe, U.S. and other parts of the world. The Edmonton area’s fertile soil and cheap land attracted settlers, further establishing Edmonton as a major regional commercial and agricultural centre. Some people participating in the Klondike Gold Rush passed through South Edmonton/Strathcona in 1897. Strathcona was North America’s northernmost railway point, but travel to the Klondike was still very difficult for the “Klondikers”, and a majority of them took a steamship north to the Yukon from Vancouver, British Columbia.
Jasper Avenue, ca. 1907
Incorporated as a town in 1892 with a population of 700 and then as a city in 1904 with a population of 8,350, Edmonton became the capital of Alberta when the province was formed a year later, on September 1, 1905. In November 1905, the Canadian Northern Railway (CNR) arrived in Edmonton, accelerating growth.
During the early 1900s, Edmonton’s rapid growth led to speculation in real estate. In 1912, Edmonton amalgamated with the City of Strathcona, south of the North Saskatchewan River; as a result, the city extended south of the North Saskatchewan River for the first time.
Just prior to World War I, the boom ended, and the city’s population declined from more than 72,000 in 1914 to less than 54,000 only two years later. Many impoverished families moved to subsistence farms outside the city, while others fled to greener pastures in other provinces. Recruitment to the Canadian army during the war also contributed to the drop in population. Afterwards, the city slowly recovered in population and economy during the 1920s and 1930s and took off again during and after World War II.
The Edmonton City Centre Airport opened in 1929, becoming Canada’s first licensed airfield.Originally named Blatchford Field in honour of former mayor Kenny Blatchford, pioneering aviators such as Wilfrid R. “Wop” May and Max Ward used Blatchford Field as a major base for distributing mail, food, and medicine to Northern Canada; hence Edmonton’s emergence as the “Gateway to the North”. World War II saw Edmonton become a major base for the construction of the Alaska Highway and the Northwest Staging Route.
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